Living in the Placentia area, many of us know all too well how a humble patch of ground can reveal a priceless key to the past. Archaeologists around the world, including those who diligently work in Jerseyside at the Fort Louis excavation, are well acquainted with this reality. Similarly, every now and then, that invaluable key can be found after leafing through a stack of papers. After all, one never knows what might be found.
And that is what a member from the Placentia Area Historical Society (PAHS) encountered in the past weeks while going through the documents that are kept by the Town of Placentia. When paging through the various items, this individual happened upon a document that is very much a key to the past.
What was found was a folklore project that had been researched and written by a group of students in 1973 — Norah Woodrow, Ellen (Nellie) Woodrow, Eithne O’Keefe and Anne Miller. Through interviews with various residents of the Placentia area, these researchers and writers learned of a considerable host of stories that were drawn from the lives of the residents — experiences, beliefs and ways of life. For instance, the document touches on widely practised activities such as making fish, the recipes for particular foods, pieces of weatherlore, as well as stories drawn from beliefs surrounding spirits and fairies. Whatever its nature, the document shares information on a rich array of topics that help to gently prise open a door to the past.
So, search your memories. Maybe some of you remember sitting down to talk with one of the writers. Otherwise, there is a chance that you recall your mother or father talking about having participated in this work. In any case, the document is an undeniable jewel from the past. Within its pages, it offers a glimpse of the life that would have been led by many who are now parents and grandparents. For those of the Placentia area, it is indeed your past. In this light, without question, the document belongs to the people of the Placentia area.
In researching the document, the PAHS was able to find a copy at the Memorial University of Newfoundland Folklore and Language Archive (MUNFLA), which also holds the original photographs. Given this find, the PAHS, in partnership with the Town of Placentia, is currently working to prepare the document for publishing.
Like the treasured pieces that are gradually and meticulously revealed by archaeologists, these stories and experiences also serve as a vital and essential pathway into the past.
Submitted by Lee Everts
Placentia Area Historical Society (PAHS)